Pinsent Masons comment: Glasgow’s 4am licence trial shows grown-up thinking

A more European approach to regulations may alter the drinking habits of those Scots at the sharp end of licensing laws, says Ennis. Picture: Contributed
A more European approach to regulations may alter the drinking habits of those Scots at the sharp end of licensing laws, says Ennis. Picture: Contributed
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Glasgow’s night-time economy is said to generate around £2.16 billion a year and support 16,600 jobs. That is despite, not because of, what has sometimes been seen by trade and practitioners alike as a licensing system which discourages growth and innovation in Scotland’s largest city.

These figures are expected to be boosted on the back of Glasgow Licensing Board’s decision to introduce a year-long pilot scheme enabling nightclubs to apply for a licence which allows them to remain open until 4am.

The glory days of Archaos on a Thursday night are sadly in the past for me, but as a lawyer specialising in licensing issues I welcome this refreshing grown-up and, dare I say it, joined-up thinking by the city’s licensing chiefs in supporting this trial.

Councillor and chairman of the board Matt Kerr said board members had listened carefully to submissions by the trade about the importance of the Glasgow’s night-time economy. Furthermore, a more European approach to drinking regulations may alter the habits of those Scots who are at the sharp end of licensing laws.

Those entertainment venues wishing to take part in the pilot scheme must submit an application before 31 January. Unsurprisingly, the successful applicants will be expected to demonstrate they are willing to improve operating standards, including a commitment to staff training and social responsibility, good employment practices, and investment in safety and security.

After the 12-month period, if the licensing board deem the trial to have been a success and choose to adopt 4am closing in the longer term, licensees who have met the criteria will be able to apply for a major variation of their licence and, if granted, continue trading until 4am.

Time will tell if this enlightened approach to alcohol consumption represents a major pendulum swing in attitudes held by policy makers. In recent years, pubs and clubs have borne the brunt of a blame game which pinned negative aspects of alcohol, such as health issues, at their collective doors and resulted in a focus on “on sales” premises. This had the unintended consequence of pushing younger consumers out of pubs and clubs and into supermarkets, where they could “pre-load” on cheaper, stronger alcohol before heading in to town or opt to drink at home, to the detriment of the night-time economy.

We now have a raft of legislation concerning where in supermarkets alcohol can be sold (you may have noticed you are no longer greeted by displays of beer as you enter) and at which price point.

Historically, Glasgow’s licensed trade has bemoaned unnecessary red tape which deterred enterprising operators from original thinking. For example, café culture and outside seating areas were welcomed in the former European Capital of Culture, but when it came to securing approval for something our European cousins take for granted, operators were often met with delays and inconsistent decision making.

Taking this latest development at face value, it is hugely encouraging that the licensing board seem to be willing to support and work alongside responsible businesses which can help grow the economy, create jobs, and promote Glasgow as a thriving city which welcomes locals and international visitors alike.

It also chimes to some extent with a more relaxed policy adopted by Police Scotland in recent years, where local commanders have taken a more community-minded approach to resolving issues with licensed premises, preferring to nip them in the bud rather than escalate matters up the chain.

Against a background of negative publicity about alcohol consumption, Glasgow Licensing Board could be said to be taking a chance on extended opening hours, but I am confident late-night operators will meet the new higher standards and prove they can trade responsibly. And, hopefully, in years to come we will wonder what all the fuss was about.

- Frances Ennis, litigator and specialist in licensing at Pinsent Masons.